Well, it certainly did snow overnight, and it continued to snow well into the morning. I was no longer able to continue sleeping at 6:30am, so I threw off my warm sleeping bag, slipped on my camp shoes, and headed down to the great room to make breakfast. Already a small handful of people were up and making good progress towards heading out.
There was light snow coming down and while it wasn’t sticking at Lake MacKenzie’s elevation, a quick look up at the mountains showed more snow cover than there had been the night before.
I considered lingering even longer over my morning coffee, perhaps making a second cup, but my true nature is to do something once I set my mind to it, and I had set my mind to get a decently early start. I gathered up my belongings and repacked my bags, slipped on my cold hiking shoes, and headed up the mountain.
Photo: Heading out with snow falling at Lake MacKenzie
The trail ascended immediately from Lake MacKenzie and quickly I was out of the cover of tree-line, exposed to the elements. From the trail, I could catch a glimpse of the Lake MacKenzie hut on the edge of the lake (see top photo) and marveled at how quickly I could find myself with such a gorgeous vantage point.
Eventually the trail wound itself over a pass and I found myself on the other side of the valley, with views extending out to the Tasman Sea (this is just barely visible in the top photo of the three below). The snow was headed west, but I luckily had about 20 minutes of clear(ish) views before the snow and winds took over.
Unfortunately, the clear views didn’t last long and I was soon again in cloud cover and blowing snow. The path became icy as I continued to ascend and was especially icy as I neared the Harris Saddle and Lake Harris. I found fellow hikers, nearly all hiking the opposite direction, at the Harris Shelter where I stopped briefly for some hot tea (from my Hydro Flask) and a quick snack.
I continued on, past Lake Harris pictured above, passing many hikers coming from the opposite direction. The trail remained above tree-line for some time and many of the stairs were quite slick from ice. The trail now descended towards Routeburn Falls and the Routeburn Falls hut.
I could sense I was nearing the falls and quickened my pace. It would be nice to stop at the Routeburn Falls hut for a short break. Soon I came upon the falls, the hut ranger, and the hut, in that order. I had a quick conversation with the hut ranger and told him about the conditions I had experienced at the saddle. He was on his way up to see the conditions for himself. According to the hikers I would see later that night that were a few hours behind me on the trail, conditions cleared and improved greatly soon after I passed Harris Saddle.
I stopped briefly at Routeburn Falls hut for a potty break and snack. The views from the Falls Hut were gorgeous, and I had no wonder as to why this hut, despite its 48 person capacity, was fully booked back in late January when I started planning this trip.
I had two more miles to go, all downhill, to get to my destination that night: the Routeburn Flats. So, again, I put my pack back on and headed down once again below tree-line and beech forest.
As I descended, the light was magnificently alighting the flats below. I stopped to marvel at the beautiful country I was trekking through. New Zealand’s Fiordlands certainly give you piece after piece of gorgeous eye candy.
I reached the NZ DOC hut just after 1pm and was greeted by the hut ranger. After agreeing to be the person who tended to the coal-fire stove, I found a bunk in the small hut (only 20 beds in this one), laid out my sleeping bag, grabbed my pot and food bag, and headed to the great room to start a pot of water boiling.
You might recognize that my evenings on the trail seem very routine, and they are. Actually life on the trail can be very routine; however, the views, the nature you experience day to day, and the people you encounter, are not. Every day brings something new, even if the daily schedule from an outsider’s perspective seems awfully repetitive: wake, make breakfast, pack, hike, stop for snacks, hike, stop for the evening, unpack, make dinner, sleep.
As the afternoon continued on, many of the hikers I met at Lake MacKenzie arrived with stories of their hike. As evening arrived, I made dinner, chatted with other hikers, and settled into a few hours of reading before retiring to my bunk.
The next day I would hike out 4.4 miles to the end of the Routeburn Track, where a shuttle to Queenstown would be waiting for me at 10am. My thirteen days of travel in New Zealand were nearly over and I was starting to dream of my next trip to New Zealand already.